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1st John (2011)

Character Development

1 John 4:13-21

Lesson audio


1 John 4:13-15 NASB  By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.  (14)  We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.  (15)  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

Live in Him

The relationship between God and the Christian is designed to be so tight that we live in him, and he lives in us. You have, as it were, a lifetime houseguest in the Holy Spirit. Consider for a moment how you treat a welcome houseguest:

·         You sacrifice the present to favor your houseguest. A houseguest makes demands upon your time; you wind up rearranging your schedule to accommodate that person. So it might well be asked to you do the same for the Holy Spirit?

·         You sacrifice the pleasant to favor your houseguest. Your home is designed to be comfortable; sometimes your guest winds up in your own favorite easy chair. We could then ask whether or not you do the same for the Holy Spirit? Do you give up pleasant things because you have the Holy Spirit?

·         You sacrifice the private to favor your houseguest. If you don't think so, just whose bathroom do they use? One look in your medicine cabinet will tell someone an awful lot about you. Are there things you trying to hide from the Holy Spirit?

It's tough to give a really good analogy for this, but you could say that the Christian is immersed in the Holy Spirit. It's a day-to-day relationship like no other; in fact, the marriage relationship is often used to describe it. And the relationship between Christ and his church is used to describe the marriage relationship. It's that close.

Indeed, we are told that the body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. This perhaps makes more sense to people in John's time than it does to us. We don't see a temple as being necessary. But do consider that this is in fact the relationship we have — and for that reason the human body carries with it a certain amount of sacredness. It is a major point of dispute with the postmodern movement; are we nothing but animals, or are we indeed home to the Holy Spirit? How is the average man to tell?

Living Evidence

If the average Christian doesn't give off evidence of the Holy Spirit, the average observer is not going to see any such thing. So how do we display the fact that the Holy Spirit lives within?

·         The most obvious way is from our confession and our testimony. If you never mentioned Jesus Christ, how are they to know?

·         Another obvious way is from the fruit of the Spirit. If the Spirit lives within you, the results should be evident.

·         Perhaps the most telling is also the most where: merciful forgiveness. As Christ is merciful and forgiving towards us, so we should be merciful and forgiving towards others.[1]


Technically speaking, there is a difference between confession and testimony. A "confession of faith" usually is a proclamation to the world, based on a particular formula, which tells the world what you believe. We may now examine the elements of such a confession:

·         We believe that Jesus is the Christ — that is to say, the Messiah promised to the Jewish people in over 1500 years of prophecy.

·         We believe in the incarnation — that is to say, that Jesus of Nazareth was and is fully human.

·         We believe that Jesus is the son of God – that is to say, that he is fully divine.

Please note something: to say that he is fully divine implies that you are obedient to his commands — even if those commands conflict with the law of the day. Permit me a current example. There are several Catholic universities in the United States. They are being told that under Obama care they will be required to provide (via healthcare coverage) abortions, abortion pills, contraceptives of all types and the encouragement to use them. The postmodern view is that religion is something you do in your silence — and we’ll see to it that there is no silence. Your tax dollars at work.


1 John 4:16-18 NASB  We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  (17)  By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.  (18)  There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.

God Is Love

Please remember that John is the philosopher of the apostles. When he speaks this way, he is speaking within the philosophical framework of his time. The implication is that love is so much within God as to require that the existence of God implies the existence of love. Aquinas would tell us that God is his attributes, and one of his attributes his love. The supreme example of that love of course is given at the Cross.

So it is no great logical leap to say that to live in God is to live in love. We can turn that around; if you are living in love — that's your lifestyle — then you are living in God. It's a little more complicated than that, but you get the idea. Love is so much in his nature that you cannot be a child of God and fail to love at the same time. It is logically contradictory.

Love Perfected

There is a logical problem for most of us. God is eternal and unchanging; his love never varies. We are mortal human beings; we change and our love therefore varies. To understand how this works we must understand how to make something perfect. The word "perfect" does not mean (in this context) flawless; it means perfectly fit for a given purpose. The perfect screwdriver isn't much use as a jackhammer. So we need to understand the purpose of this perfection. That purpose is simple: it is to make us confident on the day of judgment. The idea is that we will have lived so long as a part of God's love, reflecting him in our everyday lives, that we will know for a fact that the judgment will not do anything other than reward us.

The key verb here is "abide." It means not just to live someplace, but to continue, to endure, to stand. You see the point; love is something that you continue to do and continue to be. An act of love once is not what were talking about. The lifetime of love is what God is driving for here – because he wants you to be like him for eternity.

No Fear in Love

When you first read that statement, "there is no fear in love," it seems rather ridiculous. First, we are taught to fear God. Then, we all know that no matter how much we love, this life still gives us fear. So what is John talking about?

To begin with, you cannot cause love to arise out of fear. No one has ever been scared into loving someone. So just because you fear God doesn't imply you love him. As James says, the demons believe — and shudder. Fear of God is a recognition of who he is; love of God is the correct response to it. As Paul once said,

Philippians 2:12-13 NASB  (12)  So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;  (13)  for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Take a good look at that passage. It starts out implying that our salvation is something we need to work on — and then explains that it is God doing the work. Love operates in a similar manner; we imitate God, God strengthens us. Love overrides fear — and thus we rise in the faith.

Of course, if you are a real Christian you will be tested this. The day will come when your spiritual mind says you need to love, and the world says you need to hate. The greater that your love is, the more it will cast out the fear of ridicule and ostracism and thus allow you to love as God does.

Practical Aspects

1 John 4:19-21 NASB  We love, because He first loved us.  (20)  If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  (21)  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

Cause and Effect

Despite the thinking of the emerging church, it is not normal for human beings to love unconditionally as God does. God understands that about us; we work by cause and effect. God, therefore, must initiate the process by which we grow in love. The cause of unconditional love in human beings is the love of God acting on our behalf – at the Cross.

Human beings look at this with somewhat difficult thoughts. The problem from the human perspective is that we want to repay God for that love; that's the way all human love works. Human love is not unconditional, but comes with strings attached. We are so accustomed to this paradigm when God loves us unconditionally, we still want to pay him back. But we can't. So what do we do then?

Let me share with you something that was written for my mother's funeral, and distributed as a bookmark there.

As the wife of an Army Finance Officer, John, the couple was often stationed in remote locations. During his 20 years of service they helped friends and acquaintances in time of trouble and in turn they were helped by others. They knew they could never repay those who helped them so they did the best thing: they helped others. This became known to the family as "Pass It On". They remained true to this tradition all of their lives.


Love, in the Christian sense, is a beautiful virtue. It graces those who have it to the point of beauty. It therefore is a prime target for hypocrisy. Curiously enough, the usual motive for hypocrisy — wanting to appear to be something you aren't — isn't really the case here. There are other motives. Two of them – greed and stinginess — relate to money. We want to be known is loving, without taking our wallet. The temptation is to cluck sympathetically, at the victim on the shoulder and say, "better luck next time," and move on, feeling good about ourselves.

Another such cause is hatred. The real test of this comes when the person you so dislike stumbles and falls. The temptation is to crow, to point out all your warnings, and to let everyone know how justified and vindicated you think you are. But your Heavenly Father, who causes his rain to fall on the just and the just, would have you do differently. Such an event is a divine appointment; do not let it slip by.

Of course, this since of doing what you should be doing, loving those who are not like you is exactly what various charities are depending upon when they send you junk mail solicitations. At some point good stewardship must take hold. But make those decisions in compassion not in anger.


We have not put too much stress on this, but the requirement on the Christian to love as God loves is just that – a requirement. It is something that at the very least you do in obedience to God. You should also do it in imitation of Christ, but sometimes we know obedience and we don't know imitation. Therefore, the least you can do is obey – and you should do that.

A strange thing happens, though. As you grow in Christ, your God like love becomes less and less dependent on obedience and more and more joyful as you learn to be like Christ. You grow into love. A lot of human activity works this way. Remember learning to ride a bicycle? You started with training wheels, so the bike could not fall over. Then came the day that the training wheels came off — and at first it seemed that bicycle was out to get you. But with a little practice you got to stay upright. Later, you didn't even think about it – it just worked that way. So it is with love.

You have to remember this: you are a work in progress. God is not yet finished perfecting you. That implies two things: one, don't be so hard on yourself when you fail. Two, always be open to his path for your growth. Learn from your mistakes, and grow in grace.

[1] It is interesting to note that our church campaign "unleashing compassion" seems to ignore this aspect. Compassion, in the modern view, is a corporate activity only. Why this should be so is left as an exercise for the reader.

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